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What we know today, Sunday May 16


Today’s breaking news from South Australia, the nation and abroad.

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Questions over India repatriation testing

Doubt has been cast on the positive COVID-19 test results that saw a raft of Australians denied an opportunity to return from India.

At least three Australians prevented from boarding a flight from New Delhi to Darwin because they tested positive have since tested negative for coronavirus.

In addition a laboratory used to pre-screen passengers previously had its accreditation suspended by India’s laboratory board.

Prime Minister Scott Morrison hit back at calls for Australians to be brought home from overseas whether they have tested positive for COVID-19 or not.

About 80 returnees are now in quarantine in the Howard Springs facility in the Northern Territory after they landed from India on Saturday following the lifting of the travel ban from the virus-ravaged country.

The plane was only half full because more than 40 people who tested positive pre-flight along with about 30 of their close contacts were barred from returning.

The prime minister conceded India is a very difficult environment to operate in right now.

“We will work closely with Qantas who are obviously conducting that testing regime as part of their process and they will get every support from us,” Mr Morrison told reporters in Gladstone, Queensland on Sunday.

But he said it was essential to have a rigorous testing regime when coming to Australia, whether it is India or other countries like the UK.

Opposition Leader Anthony Albanese said Australians in India are very frustrated and while they are there, they are exposed to real health concerns.

He said if Australians had been brought home by last Christmas as the government had promised, they wouldn’t be COVID positive now.

“If Scott Morrison had of kept his commitment, they wouldn’t be exposed to this danger,” he told reporters in Narangba, Queensland.

The next government-facilitated flight is expected into Darwin on May 23, bringing up a total of 40 such flights since March 2020.

Meanwhile, coronavirus-related restrictions across Greater Sydney will ease from midnight on Sunday after NSW recorded another day of zero locally-acquired COVID-19 cases.

Frydenberg promises no post-election cuts

Treasurer Josh Frydenberg insists he is not seeking to cut spending after the next federal election after his big budget cash splash last week.

The treasurer’s third budget does not forecast a surplus in at least the next decade and continues to edge towards a trillion dollars of debt.

Repeatedly asked on ABC’s Insiders program on Sunday whether the government intends cutting spending after the election – which will be held in the next year – Mr Frydenberg said: “We are focused on the here and now”.

“We are not seeking to cut spending after the next election. We are always striving to balance the books and we did it before and we will do it again.”

The budget spent almost an extra $100 billion over the next four years, all but wiping the additional revenue received due to a stronger than expected economic recovery and a spike in iron ore prices.

Opposition Leader Anthony Albanese doesn’t believe the tactics of the treasurer or Prime Minister Scott Morrison.

“Quite clearly, Scott Morrison has a plan to just get through the next election and then we’ll see cuts, because we know from this government, just like we saw in 2014 when it first came to office, that they will make cuts, they will return to type,”  he told reporters in Narangba, Queensland.

Mr Frydenberg said about half of the new spending is temporary, such as extending the low and medium income tax offset (LMITO) for another year.

The other half is on long term commitments on aged care, disability support, mental health and women’s safety.

Mr Frydenberg is sticking by the stage three income tax cuts that are due to start in 2024/25, even though they were legislated when the budget was in far better shape and heading towards a surplus before the pandemic.

The cuts lower the 32.5 per cent and 37 per cent marginal tax rates to 30 per cent and flatten the tax structure for people earning between $45,000 and $200,000, costing the budget around $130 billion.

But he avoided saying whether people earning less that $80,000 would be worse off when the LMITO ends and the stage three tax cuts begin, despite being pressed many times by Insiders host David Speers.

Vic MP’s conduct ‘inappropriate’: Merlino

The Victorian acting premier says reports a government MP used their parliamentary office for sex are concerning but had been addressed by the Speaker’s office.

Acting Victorian Premier James Merlino says a government MP’s purported use of their parliamentary office for sex was distressing and inappropriate but he won’t endorse a formal ban on sexual activity in parliament.

The government has raised concerns about the accusations with Victorian Speaker Colin Brooks, with a spokeswoman saying this was “the appropriate avenue to make or refer complaints about MP conduct”.

Mr Brooks is leading a cross-party process to develop a new framework for MP conduct intended to include new and independent avenues for complaints.

Mr Merlino on Sunday told reporters he didn’t want to pre-empt Mr Brooks’ proposals but admitted he was concerned by the MP’s reported conduct.

He had not yet spoken to the MP in question.

Mr Merlino also said the matter had been dealt with by the Speaker’s office.

“The conduct was inappropriate, it doesn’t reflect community values (and) concerns were raised with the Speaker,” Mr Merlino said.

The Liberal opposition on Saturday called for Mr Merlino to name and shame the MP at the centre of the reports but he did not do so.

Liberal finance spokesman Matthew Guy told reporters on Sunday he was horrified that some MPs were “treating parliament like a bordello”.

Israel destroys AP and Al Jazeera offices

Israel has destroyed a 12-storey tower block in Gaza housing the offices of the Associated Press and Al Jazeera, saying the building was also used by the Islamist militant group Hamas.

The al-Jalaa building in Gaza City had been evacuated after the owner received advanced warning of the impending strike on Saturday.

A Palestinian journalist was wounded in the strike, Palestinian media reported, and debris and shrapnel flew dozens of yards away.

The Israeli military said its “fighter jets struck a multi-story building which contained military assets belonging to the intelligence offices of the Hamas terror organisation”.

AP President and CEO Gary Pruitt called the strike “an incredibly disturbing development”.

He said a dozen AP journalists and freelancers had been in the building and had been evacuated in time.

“We are shocked and horrified that the Israeli military would target and destroy the building housing AP’s bureau and other news organisations in Gaza,” he said in a statement.

“The world will know less about what is happening in Gaza because of what happened today.”

The US government said it had told Israel to ensure the safety of journalists.

“We have communicated directly to the Israelis that ensuring the safety and security of journalists and independent media is a paramount responsibility,” White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki tweeted.

The acting director general of Al Jazeera Media Network, Dr Mostefa Souag, called the strike “barbaric” and said Israel should be held accountable.

“The aim of this heinous crime is to silence the media and to hide the untold carnage and suffering of the people of Gaza,” he said in a statement.

Israeli military spokesman Lieutenant Colonel Jonathan Conricus rejected the notion that Israel was seeking to silence the media. “That is totally false, the media is not the target,” he told Reuters.

Conricus said Hamas might have calculated that by placing their “assets” inside a building with news media offices in it “they probably hoped that would keep them safe from Israeli attack”.

Another Israeli bombardment killed more than 15 Palestinians in Gaza, medics said, including a woman and four of her children who died when their house in a refugee camp was hit.

Five others died, with others wounded.

Whyalla steelworks at risk as Gupta faces fraud probe

There are fresh concerns for the future of the Whyalla steelworks as GFG Alliance owner Sanjeev Gupta faces an investigation by the UK’s Serious Fraud Office, including links to failed finance company Greensill Capital.

The SFO is looking into suspected fraudulent trading and money laundering at companies in the GFG Alliance which also has coking coal operations in NSW.

The SFO probe will include the links to Greensill, which entered administration earlier this year.

“The SFO is investigating suspected fraud, fraudulent trading and money laundering in relation to the financing and conduct of the business of companies within the Gupta Family Group Alliance (GFG), including its financing arrangements with Greensill Capital UK Ltd,” the investigators said in a statement.

Gupta’s companies were among the main clients of Greensill Capital before it collapsed earlier this year.

Labor MP Eddie Hughes for the electorate of Giles said the latest development “just adds to the uncertainty in Whyalla” and the 2,000 workers at the steelworks.

“It’s the only integrated steelworks in the nation that produces structural steel and rail, so it is an integral part of our sovereign manufacturing capacity,” Mr Hughes told the ABC.

The SA Government says it is monitoring the situation closely.

GFG Alliance’s Australian refinancing partner White Oak Global Advisors said its efforts to refinance Liberty Primary Metals debt is subject to financial due diligence and acceptable governance.

GFG’s reliance on Greensill caused many to worry that it might itself be at risk following the finance firm’s demise.

Earlier this week Greensill founder Lex Greensill, an Australian, and former British prime minister David Cameron, who lobbied for the company, appeared before the UK parliament over lobbying concerns.

India flight passengers begin quarantine

About 80 people have begun quarantine at Howard Springs after arriving on a half-full Australian repatriation flight from India.

Repatriated Australians who arrived on the first flight from virus-ravaged India since a travel ban was lifted are starting their second day of quarantine.

About 80 returnees are understood to have made it onto the eight-and-a-half hour Dehli flight, which touched down about 9.25am AEST on Saturday.

But more than 40 people who tested positive pre-flight along with about 30 of their close contacts were barred from returning on QF 112, which had a COVID-safe capacity of 150 seats.

The returnees were transferred on two buses to the Howard Springs quarantine facility, where they will spend the next two weeks.

More than 9000 Australians are registered as wanting to return, with about 900 of them said to be desperate or vulnerable.

The next government-facilitated flight is expected into Darwin on May 23, bringing up a total of 40 such flights since March 2020.

Both PCR and rapid antigen tests are a prerequisite for being able to board.

The 26 per cent positive rate among the 150 people considered for Saturday’s flight is far higher than the 3.5 per cent rate registered in passengers on flights in March.

National Critical Care and Trauma Response Centre executive director Len Notaras says those who were unable to get on the Qantas Dreamliner will have to reapply to the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade for a seat on another flight.

Flights from the subcontinent were suspended in late April when positive COVID cases from India at Howard Springs skyrocketed.

The facility can handle about 100 positive cases, but AUSMAT and NT Health who run the facility are aiming to keep that number at 50.

Driver arrested after fleeing Aldinga Beach crash

A driver who crashed a stolen car and fled the scene in South Australia has been arrested after he was spotted by a member of the public.

A member of the public has helped police track down a driver who fled the scene of a crash in South Australia.

Emergency workers were called to Aldinga Beach south of Adelaide about 7.15am on Saturday after the stolen sedan crashed and rolled on Main South Rd, bringing down powerlines.

Witnesses told officers a man extracted himself from the car and fled, sparking a search involving a police dog and helicopter.

A 27-year-old man was arrested shortly after noon at nearby Pages Flat Rd at Sellicks Hill, after he was spotted by a member of the public.

Police believe a rifle and ammunition found buried at a property near the crash site are linked to the man, who has no fixed address.

He is expected to be charged with illegal use/theft of a motor vehicle and displaying unassigned plates.

Police say the man is expected to be refused bail to appear at Christies Beach Magistrates Court on Monday.

Tasmania’s Labor leader to step down

Tasmanian Opposition Leader Rebecca White will not re-contest the party’s leadership following Labor’s third consecutive election loss.

Ms White announced her decision to stand down on Saturday, saying it had been an honour to lead for four years but a change in leadership was required to be competitive at the next state election.

She endorsed shadow treasurer David O’Byrne as her successor with a decision likely within the party in coming days.

Ms White had originally indicated she would continue leading the Tasmanian Labor party after the state election, however she said that changed after a week of internal conversations.

The outgoing opposition leader will stay on as an MP.

China lands spacecraft on Mars

China has landed a spacecraft on Mars for the first time, a technically challenging feat more difficult than a moon landing, in the latest step forward for its ambitious goals in space.

Plans call for a rover to stay in the lander for a few days of diagnostic tests before rolling down a ramp to explore an area of Mars known as Utopia Planitia. It will join an American rover that arrived at the red planet in February.

Xinhua said the entry capsule entered the Mars atmosphere at an altitude of 125 kilometres, initiating what it called “the riskiest phase of the whole mission.”

A 200 square metre parachute was deployed and later jettisoned, and then a retro-rocket was fired to slow the speed of the craft to almost zero, Xinhua said. The craft hovered about 100 metres above the surface to identify obstacles before touching down on four buffer legs.

Chinese President Xi Jinping, in a congratulatory letter to the mission team, called the landing “an important step in our country’s interplanetary exploration journey, realising the leap from Earth-moon to the planetary system and leaving the mark of the Chinese on Mars for the first time. … The motherland and people will always remember your outstanding feats!”

The rover, named after the Chinese god of fire Zhurong, is expected to be deployed for 90 days to search for evidence of life. About the size of a small car, it has ground-penetrating radar, a laser, and sensors to gauge the atmosphere and magnetic sphere.

Bulldogs down Port to take AFL top spot

Another Marcus Bontempelli masterclass has propelled the Western Bulldogs to a spirited 19-point win against fellow AFL flag fancies Port Adelaide.

Bontempelli’s 26 disposals featured two goals and seven inside-50s in his side’s 15.6 (96) to 12.5 (77) triumph in Saturday night’s high-class affair at Adelaide Oval.

The Doggies’ renowned midfield was in top form: Bontempelli, Liberatore, Jack Macrae (32 disposals), Adam Treloar (26), Bailey Dale (23), and Bailey Smith (25) were prolific ball-winners.

Forward Aaron Naughton booted four goals and took a trademark hanger of a mark.

Port on-ballers Ollie Wines (32 disposals) and Travis Boak (30 possessions), and defender Darcy Byrne-Jones (24 touches) were gallant, while Mitch Georgiades, Charlie Dixon and Orazio Fantasia kicked two majors each.

Melbourne can regain top-billing with a win over Carlton on Sunday, while Port slip from third to fifth after their third loss of the season.

– with AAP and Reuters

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